Evariste Munyeshyaka, a farmer in the PPC-RU's passion fruit farm in Ruramba Sector, Nyaruguru District. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

Evariste Munyeshyaka, a farmer in the PPC-RU?s passion fruit farm in Ruramba Sector, Nyaruguru District. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

Their initial idea was to improve their livelihood through the practice in both feeding and sale of the fruits for ?Agatangaza? juice making. The cooperative had embraced organic farming.

However, by 2011, a passion fruit virus, locally known as tubuye, had ravaged their crop, leaving the farmers counting losses. Some members quit for other crops.

The disease renders the fruit distorted and the pericarp hard and thick, with no juice inside.

The cooperative had 25 members at inception, but many left as it struggled to keep its business afloat. However, last year, about 20 of its members came out determined to resume the growing of the fruit after realising its importance.

They have had to weather challenges such  as crop diseases, lack of improved seeds, lime (ishwagara) for soil fertility and lack of irrigation facilities.

A kilogramme of lime costs Rwf100, but there is a need for over three tonnes of lime per hectare of passion fruit for the land to give enough yield, which the farmers said they cannot afford.

Currently, the cooperative grows passion fruit on an estimated two hectares of land and it needs to have at least six hectares for the fruit plantation. It also plans to buy more passion fruit produce from farmers.

The cooperative can produce about 20 litres of passion fruit concentrate juice per day.  It has now got two machines worth Rwf7 million, which will help it extract more juice from the fruit.

However, it said the current fruit produce it has will be too little for the machines, hence the need to increase the produce.

?Having a nursery with disease-free and good fruit seedlings for good produce is a problem, which makes us worry about the future of our crop and our fruit production,? said John Nzirumbanje, the cooperative the president.

Call for support

The farmers prayed that they are provided with improved and resistant passion fruit seeds, and be helped in their farming practices to ensure good yield.

?We want to train in agricultural practices because we are not aware of the disease that is affecting our passion fruit crop because some fruit wither or come into coloured spots and have bitter test, even fruit trees dry when flowering,? Alexi Nsanzimana, a passion fruit farmer in Nymagabe?s Kamegeli Sector, said.

A kilogramme of passion fruit goes for Rwf800 and a farmer can harvest about 16 tonnes per hectare of land a year.

?Passion fruit is promising because it has ready market. If there are interventions extended to our activity, I am confident we can contribute greatly to the development of the country,? said Thaciana Uwizeyimana, a passion fruit farmer from Ruramba Sector in Nyaruguru District.

Lack of enough passion fruit produce results in juice industry looking elsewhere, especially across the borders, for the juice yet the money being spent on imports would remain within the country and benefit farmers.

Emmanuel Kalisa Ndoli, the supply chain manager at Inyange Industriess Ltd, said they need an estimated 1,500 tonnes of passion fruit per year, but they cannot get such quantity in the country, although they have nine cooperatives they work with in the country.

?We can get between 400 tonnes to 700 tonnes of passion fruit from the country. But shortage means we turn to Uganda and Burundi to meet the demand gap,? he said.

He said, last year, Inyange Industries started setting up demonstration farms for passion fruit growers. The procesing industry acquired two hectares of land in Gakenke, Gicumbi and Karongi districts to supply farmers with better seedlings for improved produce.

RAB?s efforts

Boniface Kagiraneza, the director of horticulture research programme at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said ?passion woodiness? disease renders the fruit stiff and with no sugar inside.

He said the disease started manifesting in the country in 2002 in Rulindo District where passion fruit growing had started, and later in Nyaruguru and Nyamagabe as well as other passion fruit growing districts as more farmers embraced the crop.

?Passion fruit started to be grown largely after 1994 and there was a disorganised system in the distribution of the seedlings because farmers shared disease affected seedlings, which made the disease so rampant,? Kagiraneza said.

He said, later, RAB produced seeds and got some varieties from South Africa and distributed them among farmers, but they planted them in affected fields.

Kagiraneza said RAB has since put in place various mechanisms intended to achieve improved agriculture productivity, like the farmer field schools.

?As farmers come together to run agricultural practices, including pruning, fertiliser application and disease control, they can build synergy to address the fruit disease threat,? he said.

Kagiraneza said managing passion fruit woodiness disease is difficult since it is viral, but said there is need for about five-year interval after the disease was identified and the next growing of the fruit so that the virus wears away with nature.

He noted that the government is working with Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) to look for a disease-free variety and improved passion fruit nurseries and distribute safe seedlings to farmers as well as promote farmer field schools.

FAIM, a company owned by American Steve Jones, founded in 2011 and based in Kigali, is the first tissue culture lab and plant propagation nursery of its kind in Africa producing clean, disease-free planting materials for the farmers in Rwanda and neighbouring countries.

The planting materials include banana varieties, passion fruit, tamarillos and pineapple.

Emmanuel Ntirenganya, The New Times

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